W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-xg-audio@w3.org > December 2010

RE: Music Notation on the Web

From: Tom White \(MMA\) <lists@midi.org>
Date: Sun, 12 Dec 2010 13:21:29 -0800
To: <public-xg-audio@w3.org>
Message-ID: <508DE019F09841D1B8C4DD946B353796@MMANotebook>
Joe,
 
I do concur with your assessment of MIDI's usability for notation
purposes... though I prefer to focus on how it works just fine where the
issues you mentioned do not apply, such as in the case of a lot of
contemporary music, as well as any situation where the user is not concerned
about absolute accuracy <g>.
 
But I don't think that is what Roger was asking about... I think he was
asking how to separate the music performance itself (the pitches and
rhythms) from how it is displayed on the screen or in print, which is why I
mentioned MIDI... MIDI represents the pitches and rhythms of a performance
without specifying how they should be notated.
 
That said, I can't say for sure MIDI will do what Roger wants, because I'm
not clear what he's trying to do. 
 
Thanks,
 
Tom White
MMA
 



  _____  

Hi Tom, 


I'm sure we both agree that MIDI is an essential and widely adopted
standard, and that that it serves an admirable purpose in the music world in
capturing performance data that is playable on nearly every device or
platform.


However, communicating the information found in a notated score has never
been a primary goal of MIDI.  Thus, it's not a criticism of MIDI to observe
that it does not perform  very well as a music notation format except in
some very simple cases.  MIDI has a few optional features bolted on that
capture things like key and time signatures, but otherwise it does not
communicate the same kind of information that is found in a score file.  I
think this is fine: it was not intended to do so, and it would be a much
worse performance data format if it tried to cover this base.


Consequently, when Sibelius, Finale, Noteflight or any other notation
program imports MIDI, the application must invent from whole cloth much of
the notational data in the resulting score.  Much of that invented
information is musically incorrect, and amounts to the best possible
assumption that can be made without a lot of missing information.


A few salient examples:


- MIDI does not distinguish between enharmonic notes, such as D# and Eb. In
a score, and to a performer, these are very different. The key signature
doesn't suffice to figure these out; only the composer really knows.
- MIDI does not distinguish between different ways of writing the same
rhythm, such as a quarter tied to an eighth versus a dotted quarter. These
are likewise very important to performers.
- MIDI does not distinguish articulatory variants that look identical in
performance data, say, between a staccato quarter note and a full-value 16th
note. On many instruments these yield completely different sounds in live
performance.
- MIDI does not distinguish between notes in different staves or voices of
the same instrumental part, which are essential to correct interpretation.


That list could be a lot longer if we include all the various types of
expressive markings that are an important part of score writing and which
capture the composer's intent.


Importing MIDI is thus one of the most difficult tasks faced by a music
notation developer, since the code must synthesize reasonable approaches in
these cases and numerous others. The best one can hope for is "reasonable"
output for very simple music.  For more complex music, the resulting score
is usually not acceptable at all and require a lot of manual fixup after
conversion from MIDI.


Best,


... .  .    .       Joe



Joe Berkovitz
President
Noteflight LLC
84 Hamilton St, Cambridge, MA 02139
phone: +1 978 314 6271
www.noteflight.com


On Dec 12, 2010, at 1:59 AM, Tom White (MMA) wrote:



But "Standard MIDI Files" store pitch and rhythm information for every note
in a musical performance, from which it is possible for computer programs
(including Sibelius and Finale) to create a musical score (one that is
lacking in some formatting)... is that not what you are looking for?
 
Tom White
MMA


  _____  

From: Cutler, Roger (RogerCutler) [mailto:RogerCutler@chevron.com] 
Sent: Saturday, December 11, 2010 3:56 PM
To: Tom White (MMA); public-xg-audio@w3.org
Subject: RE: Music Notation on the Web


As Mr. Berkovitz says, Midi is pure performance data for electronic
instruments.  Quoting from Wikipedia, "it sends
<http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Event_message&action=edit&redlink
=1> event messages about pitch <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitch_(music)>
and intensity, control signals for parameters such as volume, vibrato
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vibrato>  and panning
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panning_(audio)> , cues
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cue_(theatrical)> , and clock signals to set
the tempo <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tempo> ."  That's very different
from a music score and serves a different purpose.

From: public-xg-audio-request@w3.org [mailto:public-xg-audio-request@w3.org]
On Behalf Of Tom White (MMA)
Sent: Saturday, December 11, 2010 4:42 PM
To: public-xg-audio@w3.org
Subject: RE: Music Notation on the Web
Roger,
You say you are interested in exchanging the "notes in the proper rhythms"
and doing the "formatting in the new environment"... and you want to "import
the notes into Sibelius and Finale and handle the formatting there".
Is there some reason you can't use MIDI?
Tom White
MMA

  _____  

From: public-xg-audio-request@w3.org [mailto:public-xg-audio-request@w3.org]
On Behalf Of Cutler, Roger (RogerCutler)
Sent: Saturday, December 11, 2010 12:54 PM
To: Joseph Berkovitz
Cc: public-xg-audio@w3.org
Subject: RE: Music Notation on the Web

I may be demonstrating my ignorance here, but I have not personally had good
experiences with MusicXML.  I recall that I tried to use this format to
transfer some music between Finale and Sibelius (I've forgotten which way,
but probably toward Sibelius) and I had a LOT of trouble.  The bottom line
was that it basically did not work.  It is my impression that neither Finale
nor Sibelius support MusicXML in a very complete fashion.  I also think (but
am not positive) that MusicXML attempts to model features of the music that
are involved with formatting as well as the content of the music.  In fact,
I think, but am not sure, that this was probably the source of the problems
I had using it.  I would have been perfectly happy to start with a bare
bones version of the music (that is, the notes in the proper rhythms) and do
the formatting in the new environment, but I seem to recall that it tried to
pull across a bunch of very complex stuff associated with formatting that
didn't really work and got in the way of using the information at all.

I believe that there are other possible objections to using MusicXML as a
starting point: 

1.       One of the responses I got at the TPAC was a very strong opinion,
which I initially was skeptical of but eventually found convincing, that a
music representation scheme used on the Web should be capable of practically
supporting use by hand for simple tasks.  ABC is an example of a markup for
music content that has this character.  My impression is that MusicXML does
not in that it is, in all representations, quite complex and bulky.  Note
that the illustration shown by Hakon Lie at the TPAC of a music notation
markup being used in HTML 5 used ABC.
2.       My impression (again, perhaps showing my ignorance) is that the
takeup of MusicXML on the Web has been extremely limited.  Certainly none of
the sites that I go to in order to get music offer anything in MusicXML.
The most common offering is a PDF file, which has obvious limitations.  What
I REALLY want is a format that allows me to import the notes into Sibelius
or Finale and handle the formatting there.
3.       I speculate that it might be easier to get whole-hearted
participation from the majors (Finale and Sibelius) - and my impression is
that their implementations of MusicXML are either not whole-hearted or that
it is extremely difficult - if the markup standard confined itself to the
CONTENT of the music and not the formatting.  I say this because I get the
impression that these vendors consider their competitive advantage to
involve formatting AND because I also get the impression that some of the
formatting they do is extremely complex and difficult to represent as
anything but an image.

In summary, it seem plausible to me that if one looks hard at the
requirements for a Web music notation that there may be no obvious solution
on the ground, or there is that it is not the "obvious" solutions of either
MusicXML or the ISO standard SMDL, which was suggested as "obvious" by
someone else.  And if indeed there is an "obvious" solution - then what can
be done to get people actually to USE it????

From: Joseph Berkovitz [mailto:joe@noteflight.com] 
Sent: Friday, December 10, 2010 8:20 PM
To: Cutler, Roger (RogerCutler)
Cc: public-xg-audio@w3.org
Subject: Re: Music Notation on the Web
Hi folks,
As a creator of web-based music notation editing software, I welcome a
discussion on this topic, but with a large caution on its breadth and depth.
Semantic representation of music is such a complex area that it's very
likely to occupy the full bandwidth of any group that takes up the
challenge, and then some. I believe that music notation, if addressed by the
W3C, will almost certainly consume the full attention of a single XG or WG.
I would of course be very pleased to participate in the discussion or in
groups that spin off.  
It's also necessary to mention that my fellow Audio XG member Michael Good
has devoted much of his career to successfully developing and promulgating
the MusicXML standard in industry and academia. There are few people as
qualified than Michael to be part of this discussion. So there are at least
two folks on this group with a strong interest, and there may well be more.
Now, as Michael stated in his response, that there is already a widely
adopted standard in the notation world, namely MusicXML which his company
Recordare owns. It is the de facto interchange standard today for most music
notation applications.  One might even take the position that MusicXML's
status on the ground in the community is such that a separate W3C standards
effort is unnecessary. Personally, I would not go that far: my opinion is
that a W3C standard for music notation could possibly be a good thing, but
that such a standard would do very well to look at MusicXML as a starting
point (and as a potential ending point also, in that W3C could bless
MusicXML as the standard itself and carry its evolution forward). Whatever
the potential of a new standard might be, MusicXML reflects a lot of
information and wisdom accumulated over its lifetime and is pretty well
burned into the ecosystem today.
Insofar as this group is concerned, I would very much like to see the work
on the Audio API be completed before commencing a challenge as substantial
as music notation. It would be great to start to discuss it, but we should
all be aware that some of the ratholes will be miles deep, and the
implementation mountain will be miles high. Let me explain further by way of
commenting on a few points from the thread that Roger just posted:

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to publish music in a way that the CONTENT,
as opposed to the formatting, could be picked up and used?  Isn't that kind
of in the spirit of the Web?  And isn't it also kind of in the spirit of
the Web to worry about the content before you start messing around with
binary streams and images?

I share this enthusiasm for representing semantic musical content on the Web
-- it's my mission too, and what my company is all about. However, it is not
the case that binary audio streams are necessarily a "formatting" of such
content, any more than pixels are necessarily "formatted text".  Audio is a
primary medium, much of whose content can not be derived from semantic
notation by either a human or a machine. Much music is never notated in the
first place. Although I am a musician with a traditional conservatory
background, I strongly believe that supporting pure sound generation on the
Web is a valid and essential musical enterprise in and of itself.
Programmatic audio and music notation content are complementary, and it's
not at all a cart-before-the-horse situation.
Furthermore, audio support will help music notation take many important
steps towards becoming a first-class citizen on the web. While music
notation viewing could (with considerable effort) become somewhat
standardized in browsers, music notation editing is likely to remain a
diverse space with many disparate approaches. Any Web-based notation editor
will absolutely require good programmatic audio support in order to be at
all functional (and one of my primary motivations in working with the Audio
group is to allow the Web to support such editors).

[NOTE - There ARE companies involved with music notation and publishing, but
they are not in the W3C.  I'd really like to reach out to them and try to
involve them in this effort, and I have some ideas how to make that
attractive, or at least how NOT to make it UNattractive - Roger]

At least *some* are in the W3C, already ;) 

Getting support for maths in Web content was similarly backed by
centuries of cultural heritage; but that alone wasn't enough to make
it a major priority for all browser-makers... [snip]

The effort involved in properly rendering even a basic subset of
conventional Western music notation is unreasonably large, for a number of
issues that aren't appropriate to go into here.  Music notation has accreted
from centuries' worth of experimentation across various cultural shifts,
shaped by the quirks of human visual cognition. Due to the implementation
effort, I share this concern that browser-makers might simply ignore this
area, unless there's a strong case that music notation on the Web will have
a broad audience comparable to that for the other modern browser feature
sets. 
On the whole I'd like to see a Web standard for music notation emerge, when
it can do so successfully with strong backing from the industry and from the
W3C.  Development of such a standard would probably fertilize the
software/music ecosystem for a very long time to come, if the standard
achieves a high level of acceptance. Let's just proceed carefully and
thoughtfully, with respect for the effort level required, and the history of
past efforts, and do it right.
best,
... .  .    .       Joe

Joe Berkovitz
President
Noteflight LLC
84 Hamilton St, Cambridge, MA 02139
phone: +1 978 314 6271
www.noteflight.com
Received on Sunday, 12 December 2010 21:22:25 UTC

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